It's a fictional streetscape we wander, here, a metropolis whose buildings, boulevards, and back alleys are in a constant state of flux. This is every place, and yet, no place at all - a city of dreams and a dream of a city.

Here, we explore the life and work of Ivan Illich and his circle of collaborators. There's no comprehensive index to the articles published, but we invite you to use the Search box, to the left, and to explore the Archive links that appear at the bottom of each page. Comments are welcomed.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Illich, architecture, and candles

William Braham is a professor of architecture at University of Pennsylvania. One of his interests is lighting. In the late 1990s, he participated in a seminar that Ivan Illich held at that university, in the architecture department then chaired by Joseph Rykwert. Braham (with Rykwert and Illich) also participated in The Oakland Table discussions hosted by Jerry Brown in the late 1990s, when he was mayor of that city.

Braham in 2000 published a piece in the Baltimore Sun, "Learning To Stop The World With Candlelight Dinners," which touches on Illich's thought. Illich was known, of course, for typically having a lighted candle on the table where he met and ate with his circle of friends. This candle represented the person who might knock at the door, an uninvited but welcome guest. Braham asks:

Can the candle at the table really provide a healthy means of achieving leisure in modern life or a more leisurely approach to health?

Attention to such acts of resistance does not suggest that the dictates of life lived according to the progressive and linear time of the clock can be arrested simply by lighting a candle at the dinner table. But as the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard observed, the gentle, moving flame of the candle offers the one kind of light into which you can gaze, which gives a place for your mind to wander. Neither the electric light nor the television allow for that kind of attention or create that kind of time.

Braham published another piece in 1998, "The Candle at the Table: Work, Waste, and Leisure in the Modern Home," which can be downloaded from U. Penn's website, here. It, too, references Illich, though only in passing, and considers the use of candles as a potential act of resistance in the modern, electrically-lit world.

In 2007, Braham co-edited a book, Rethinking Technology, A Reader in Architectural Theory, which collected a good number of essays -- "chronicles, manifestos, reflections, and theories produced by architects and architectural writers." The book's preface begins:

The possibility of this volume grew out of conversations at the University of Pennsylvania over a decade ago. For a brief and remarkably intense period Ivan Illich taught a weekly seminar in the PhD program in Architecture headed by Joseph Rykwert. Like so many moments of intensity, it was surprisingly short lived, though its topics and debates continue to reverberate among those fortunate enough to have participated. Illich brought his broad experience to questions fostered by Marco Frascari’s studies of representation, David Leatherbarrow’s writing about materials and assemblies, Peter McCleary’s seminar on the philosophy of technology, and Rykwert’s depth of knowledge and curiosity about everything.

That was one seminar we truly wish we could have attended. Rykwert was a major influence on Illich's thinking about water and urban space and Illich helped Rykwert think about architecture and the "dancing column."

Braham maintains a website describing some of his activities.

1 comment:

David Wilson said...

yes, I too studied to be an architect in the 70s, didn't make it and went back to writing software, one of my profs used to say, "architects are people who eat light" and there is something in that

I like that quote about candles I keep one on my table here, a vigil when things are going on elsewhere that I wish I could influence (which is most of the time)

be well, I like this blog and will put it on my list to visit sometimes.

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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.